The Road to the Beach…and a Tree Full of Goats

Tomorrow begins a long weekend here in the US…so I think we can all guess where I’ll be.  The weather does not look exactly promising for a beach weekend to celebrate the unofficial start of summer…but it’s still the beach.

I’m not here to write about Rehoboth today.  I think we all know by now how I feel about Rehoboth.  But getting ready for a beach weekend got me thinking about my other favorite beaches (I have lots of other favorite beaches), and I wondered how to make a post out of one.  Mostly, I got to thinking about Essaouira, a port town on the west coast of Morocco, about 3 hours by bus away from downtown Marrakech.

Then, in a rare moment of scrolling through Twitter, I scrolled past a post from National Geographic Travel that solidified it.  It was a video of goats in trees, munching away on the leaves and nuts.  The description explained that this was a tree on the road between Marrakech and Essaouira.  I had seen a similar tree full of goats from the window of a bus on my way to Essaouira the second time I went, and I was absolutely thrilled to finally see what I’d heard so much about.  Granted, I’d heard that, sometimes, these goats are physically placed in the trees for the sake of tourists coming by; but sometimes they did, in fact, jump up of their own accord.  I knew why the goats were there, what the end result would be, and got an enormous kick out of it.

But I get ahead of myself.  I was already excited, because I was getting back to Essaouira one last time, before I moved onto China.  The first time I went was in April, during our spring break.  We went for a few days to explore the seaside medina, to soak in some salty air, to get out of the Marrakchi pollution for a few days.

We boarded the bus near the main train station in Marrakech, and ambled across the highway, stopping at a rest stop about halfway to Essaouira.  We eventually crested a hill, came around a curve, and caught our first glimpse of the ocean.  A few minutes later, we disembarked in front of one of the gates into the medina, and walked through to our hotel, the Beau Rivage.  It was a delightful little hotel overlooking one of the public squares in the medina, steps away from the port.  We went up to the rooftop terrace to soak in some vitamin D before ambling back through the medina for a stroll; came back to the hotel for a rest; and went over to Villa Maroc for a slightly fancier dinner.  We did much of the same the next day – we began our day with breakfast at Patisserie Driss before weaving our way through the narrow alleys; we walked along the shore, soaking in the sea and sun, watching people go by.  It was a much slower pace than the frenzy that is Marrakech, and a much needed respite.  But back to the frenzy we had to go, eventually.

I kept meaning to get back to Essaouira for a quick weekend before I left Morocco.  My soul was aching for the sea…but I did not get back until June.  A friend of mine was getting married, and was having a pre-wedding party by the sea.  A bunch of us boarded the bus on a Saturday morning, yukking it up and getting ready for a grand old time.  This trip, most of my friends were staying together in a riad – but being my stubbornly independent self, I booked my own room back at the Beau Rivage.  This time, they gave me a room with a tiny balcony, overlooking the same little square.  We had a grand old time; we had a great lunch in the medina; my neighbor and I wandered along the beach and took hilarious photos; eventually, we made our way to the festivities and had a ball.  I got my last dose of Moroccan Vitamin D before leaving for Asia.

On our bus ride out to Essaouira this trip, as we pulled out of that same rest stop, someone called out to look out the right side of the bus – lo and behold, a tree full of goats!  I snapped a photo out of the window next to me and had a good chortle.  There they were, picking away at the argan nuts, munching away happily.  Finally, I had seen proof of the story I’d kept hearing.

See, here’s the thing.  Morocco has a particular famous export – argan oil.  It’s used in fancy hair and skin products across the globe.  It’s supposed to soften and silken, and act as a defrizzer.  Honestly, I had not heard of argan oil before I got to Morocco, but while there, passed by several argan processing places, where Moroccan grandmas get the oil out of the center of the nut, and eventually make it into the oil we use on our skin and hair.  (For what it’s worth, they also process a culinary form of argan oil, which is delicious.)

It is not easy work, getting the oil out of the nut.  See, the shell of the nut is almost impenetrable by human hands, at least in the old fashioned way.  So how do they do it?

With the help of the goats.  Those goats in the trees.  The ones I saw on the road to Essaouira.  These goats eat argan nuts.

What happens is this – the goats pick a nut (or several), and munch away…but they don’t digest the whole nut.  They only digest the shell – the same shell that is virtually impenetrable to human hands.  The rest of the nut comes out, via normal natural processes, and is…harvested by the goat herders.  The nut is then cleaned (rigorously, one hopes), and processed in those little roadside argan shops.  And then, lo and behold, our fancy hair product.

It took me almost a year to see these goats, the ones who give me my favorite defrizzer.  All because I just had to get back to the beach.

It kind of makes me sad, that I doubt I’ll see any tree-goats on my way out Route 50 and across the Bay Bridge.  The only other sight that came close were the cows hanging out between my hotel and the beach in Balangan Beach, during my Bali trip.  But that’s a story for another time…and yes, I did get a picture of those cows with my Saint Christopher camera.

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